Pennsylvania health department puts additional coronavirus restrictions on hold – TribLIVE

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Plans to restrict dining and gatherings in some Southwestern Pennsylvania counties where covid-19 cases have increased have been put on hold following discussions with local leaders last week, Pennsylvania Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said Monday.

“We had a robust discussion, but none of that influenced our decision,” Levine said. “Really, it’s the day-to-day numbers that influence our decision and we decided to hold for the present time.”

The additional round of shutdowns were expected to include Beaver, Butler, Washington and Westmoreland counties. Allegheny County health officials last week ordered that indoor dining remain closed, but that outdoor dining could resume, along with alcohol sales at outdoor seating.

Westmoreland County Commissioner Doug Chew suggested the state’s change of course came after local officials challenged the data used by health department officials that detailed the percentage of positive tests in Westmoreland County.

“I feel we should be playing an active role in these decisions,” Chew said. “We have direct contact with the health care providers in our area and we are in a good position to help make these decisions for our county.”

He said local leaders have had no contact with state officials since late last week.

Local businesses including restaurants bombarded county leaders with complaints after word leaked last week about impending closures, Chew said.

Levine said she and other state officials are not considering “dramatic, statewide” shutdown measures like those implemented in March and April. She praised “targeted mitigation efforts” like those implemented by Allegheny County Health Department Director Dr. Debra Bogen earlier this month, which included banning on-site consumption of alcohol in bars and restaurants and limiting dine-in services.

In addition to day-to-day case numbers, Levine said officials are watching the positivity rate, the share of total tests that come back positive.

The positivity rate has gone up in 28 counties, but statewide it is relatively low at 4.4%, Levine said.

“There’s no one hard and fast line, but 5% is something that we watch really carefully,” Levine said. “So if the percent positivity is under 5%, that’s a really good sign.”

Levine urged residents across the state — especially young people, who make up a significant portion of new cases — to wear masks in public and to continue practicing physical distancing.

“There are things we can do right now to stop the cycle,” Levine said. “First, please wear a mask when you’re going out in public. If you are in a situation where you are considering whether or not you need a mask, and you’re thinking about it, then the answer is yes, wear a mask.”

New cases have been connected with travel, as well as social gatherings at bars, restaurants and parties — situations where people are likely to be within six feet of another person for a prolonged period of time, putting them at risk of spreading or being exposed to respiratory secretions from a cough or sneeze.

Pennsylvania added 328 new cases of covid-19 Monday, bringing the statewide total to 95,742 cases. Allegheny County alone reported 71 new cases related to test results spanning July 1 through July 12.

That number is relatively low compared to figures reported by Allegheny County in recent days. The county reported 180 new cases Friday, 215 new cases Saturday and 200 new cases Sunday.

Westmoreland County on Monday passed 1,000 cases countywide, reporting 16 new cases.

Southwestern Pennsylvania is also showing the greatest increase in the number of coronavirus cases among young people compared to other regions in the state, according to figures provided by the state health department.

About 25% of new cases confirmed in July were among people in the 19-to-24-year-old age group, compared to 5% of cases confirmed in April.

In Southeastern Pennsylvania — where Philadelphia is located — about 17% of new cases confirmed in July were among young people, compared to about 5% in April.

Levine said health officials and the state Department of Education are working on school reopening plans. She said specifics will be available “shortly,” but did not elaborate.

Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jamie at 724-850-2867, jmartines@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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